Glass Futures, a non-profit glass industry think tank, has partnered with the U.K. government to determine whether alternative sustainable fuels could reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%, allowing the glass industry to decarbonize sooner, says Palma González García, combustion technical lead at Glass Futures.

The partnership includes a report published for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy that answers some of the fundamental questions surrounding low-carbon fuels within the U.K. glass industry.

The report established that:

  • One hundred percent liquid sustainable biofuels resulted in carbon savings of between 70-80% when compared with high-carbon natural gas. The research proved the technical feasibility in major industrial trials for use in both flat and container glass at NSG-Pilkington UK, inventors of the float glass process, and leading container manufacturer Encirc.
  • The potential for replacing natural gas with hydrogen has been demonstrated on an industrial scale and appears promising but the solution varied across the different sub-sectors (float, container, etc.). Further research is required to understand the effects of hydrogen combustion on glass melting and forming processes, glass quality, Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions and refractory corrosion.
  • Some manufacturers are using increasing amounts of electric boost, with electricity supplying around 20-40% of melting energy. Increasing beyond this amount of boost requires significant changes to furnace design. Other barriers include uncertainty around the rising cost of energy.
  • Alongside a series of pilot scale tests, economic modeling and research into hybrid solutions from the present day to 2100 found that payback on net zero investment is possible by 2060, based on retrofitting solutions and given a positive policy framework co-created by industry and government.

The report concludes that while commercially available options such as biofuels and hydrogen had positive results, the options to decarbonize the glass industry are not universal. Glass Futures says that this is because of geographic drivers such as localized hydrogen networks and electrical grid capacity.

“Our research indicates that significant future investigation is warranted and that options to decarbonize the glass industry won’t be restricted to a single solution,” says García. “This allows the glass industry to both decarbonize and respond to market factors in the drive to net zero by 2050 or sooner.”

García adds that switching fuel would not be cheap. Furnaces, for instance, would need to be changed. There are limited opportunities to change furnaces during uninterruptable production campaigns.

“Major changes to furnace design can only be executed between such campaigns and will incur significant costs,” says Garcia.